eBay‘s Autumn 2017 Seller release was all about evolving the marketplace and creating a journey sellers can link into for success. We understand that faced with some measures such as editing images to remove watermarks and ever more product identifier requirements you might view it as just creating more work, but there are some fundamental reasons why this is needed for the things eBay didn’t officially announce but will be introducing in the near future.
The last time eBay bet big
To set the scene we need to step back 10 years or so into eBay’s past. Back then people were on computers which largely consisted of once cream boxes underneath desks (covered in dust, dirt and fluff) with cream CRT monitors (also covered in dirt and dust) on people’s desks. Laptops were just coming to the fore and tablets weren’t even available let alone mainstream, but Apple introduced the first iPhone and a mobile revolution was born.
eBay looked at mobile, saw the future and bet the house that mobile would be big. That might seem obvious with the benefit of hindsight but eBay were one of the first companies to have a mobile app (exclusively on the iPhone at launch, but later on Android, Blackberry and Windows phones although the later two have been scrapped). The eBay app instantly become the most popular mobile app ever – a title which it retains to this day. eBay are a tech company and when they get something right they get it really really right and, somewhat sadly as it was a decade ago, mobile was their last big bold innovation that worked.
eBay’s next big bet
Now the world is changing again. As John Lawson pointed out at Linn Academy, everything is now done in the cloud and our mobiles are simply cloud connectors. However this gives us on tap access to massive computing power and eBay are once again looking to the future and about to bet big.
eBay are all over AI (Artificial Intelligence), Big Data (lots of little data), AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality). Some people will try and sell you on a world where we’ll all be walking around with VR headsets and perhaps Wii type controllers in each hand to navigate a virtual world. I can tell you now that this is not going to happen – I tried VR and it’s incredibly disorientating and frankly made me feel a bit queasy.
What we will start to see is a device (most likely in the early days the humble smartphone that we all carry) becoming a window to a virtual world. eBay have a couple of really cool projects which are launching in the US and will come to the UK either this year or early in 2018. One is ‘Shop the look’ and the other is ‘Image Search’.
Shop the look
We’ve already written about Shop the Look which is currently being showcased on eBay’s new The Entertainment Shop. It’s basically the ability for an overlay to be put on an image which makes it shoppable.
If you see a picture of an outfit that catches your eye then very soon eBay will be able to make that image shoppable and you’ll be presented with similar items to buy on eBay.
Find it on eBay and Image search
Find it on eBay and Image search are ways to use your mobile to interact with eBay.
With Find it on eBay you can share an image from any social site or your web browser with the eBay mobile app and it will ‘Shop the Look’ for you – eBay will find listings of the item in that image or others like it.
Image search is similar except you take a photo, crop to highlight the item you’re interested in, pop it into the eBay Search bar on the eBay app and again they’ll go find similar items for you to buy.
One day soon you’ll be able to forget about browsing through 100s of pages of listings to find a rare vase to match the one you already own. Just take a photo of your antique (or use one from the web) and do an image search on eBay for similar items instead of trying to guess what keywords a seller may have used to describe it.
With all this exciting stuff to come based around images there are two things to bear in mind. Firstly shoppers are not going to be turned on with text, logos, fluorescent borders and watermarked images when they shop. Remember we’re looking at the next generation of shoppers who didn’t grow up with the web in the 1990s and they’ll scoff at your images just as we scoff at blue, red and green text (or worse flashing text or scrolling marquees!). Secondly image search is massively processor intensive, it requires a tremendously powerful set of computers to process all the 1.1billion listings each with up to 12 images and frankly anything that’s added to the images just makes the job harder.
We totally sympathise with sellers on the work eBay are asking them to do to remove watermarks. We think eBay got it wrong and should have banned watermarks when they banned image decorations, instead of telling sellers it was OK only to later backtrack. It’s just got to happen though.
Why data and images are important
eBay have tons of really cool stuff that will be coming to the site (or sometimes off the site) in the near future. There are clever new ways to search coming down the road and largely the mobile will be the window on the world. Being serious, what type of buyer is ever going to search for a GTIN for a cool pair of trainers? No one, but they might want to shop from a picture of them.
I don’t want to dismiss data too lightly however, it’s still important as eBay need to be able to get visibility in search engines and the like. They’ve also announced new tools to help guide smart buying decisions in Seller Hub with suggestions of products similar to those you already sell where eBay see a shortage on the site, restocking information based on eBay’s knowledge of sell through rates and pricing guidance to give you an idea of whether you’re competitive, could make more margin or haven’t a hope of getting a sale as your ridiculously overpriced. All of this can only be done if eBay know the selling prices of products and have certainty that they’re comparing apples with apples.
eBay in 2018
I’m quietly confident that the much vaunted and equally derided multi-year plan that Devin Wenig put in place to revitalise the eBay marketplace will soon start to show real results. Frankly John Donahoe put all his focus and invested all the cash in growing payments which was the investor’s darling until one rebelled and forced eBay to spin PayPal off into a separate entity. Since Devin came on board investment into eBay has accelerated, although most of the innovations have rolled out first in the US so they’re getting benefits we’re yet to see in Europe and the UK.
It’s also worth noting that eBay are undergoing a brand change and presenting themselves to consumers as a colourful and exciting place to shop. It’s no accident that they’re blowing a big budget on TV and billboard advertising at this moment in time as they’ve got innovations ready to dazzle and tempt a new generation that grew up with a mobile or tablet in their hand before they even learnt to read and write. They are the future of ecommerce and they are the generation eBay need to tap in to.
Watch this space and come back in 6 months. I’ll either be happy to say ‘I told you so’ or sad to admit I got it wrong. See you around Easter 2018 time and by then we’ll have a better idea of where eBay are going and if the innovations have a) been delivered and b) are working.